Carlisle responds to red light fiasco

Dear Man Friday, When I read your piece “Don’t Cape Town drivers understand the elementary laws of physics?” (Cape Times, November 30) it immediately resonated. Your wishes are not different to mine and JP Smith’s.

Yes – too many Cape Town drivers don’t understand the elementary laws of physics, and go to meet their Maker looking surprised.

We have about 1 000 traffic officers in the province. Many of our units operate 24/7 – so divide by three. Others are in court, on holiday, have the flu.

Between them, they manage, as best they can, over 20 000kms of roads; thousands of intersections; 10 000 minibus taxis; 2 000 buses and 1.2 million other vehicles. Each year, some 1.5 million vehicles are stopped at road blocks or tested at weighbridges. Each year some 200 000 fines are issued.

It’s tough being a traffic officer. Long, unforgiving hours, attending at often horrific accidents and not much tea and sympathy from the road using public.

Man Friday says we should have more men on the beat – JP and I agree, but the contest for available funds is intense.

Also on Man Friday’s wish list is cameras. We have them, but not enough. The Freeway Management System operates a 24-hour total camera coverage of the N1 from the CBD to Huguenot, the N2 from the CBD to Sir Lowry’s Pass and the R300. Some 400kms of our most dangerous roads are now camera monitored for average speed over distance. Two of our most dangerous level crossings are also camera monitored. The ghost squad cars bristle with electronic and camera technology.

But Man Friday is correct, we need more officers, more cameras and much better results from the criminal justice system.

But here’s the thing – with what little we have got, we have achieved an incredible reduction in fatalities. According to my research, no other country or region has brought down its fatality rate faster and more significantly than the Western Cape.

From January 2009 to November 2012 we have reduced fatalities from 1 739 per 12-month period to 1 243 – a reduction of 29 percent. Our fatality statistics are indeed deadly accurate. They are provided by the very efficient forensic services of the provincial Health Department – what the general public would refer to as the mortuary services.

I have enormous admiration for our men and women on the traffic beat – give or take a few rotten apples. They have every reason to be proud of themselves and their remarkable achievements.

That being said, the greatest contribution to safer roads is the interest shown by the media. Every article and interview heightens safety awareness, and when Man Friday enters this field – well, that’s powerful stuff.

Drunken driving has declined significantly in the last three years – we can see that clearly from our roadblock statistics. No question that the media coverage of those roadblocks and of our Shadow Centres played a huge part in changing drink/driving behaviour.

Man Friday should know that we are not complacent. Each year we will add to the road safety armoury.

Finally, there are some road users that will never understand the laws of physics. The only law that they will understand is the one that puts them in prison.

Here again some small progress is being made. Two killer drivers have gone to jail for 20 and eight years respectively. We are awaiting sentencing of the bus driver who rolled off the N1 on the De Doorns heights, as well as the speedster who diced down the M3 killing a young woman on the University bend.

JP and I know that fines and suspended sentences will never stop these killings – only jail will get the message to the drivers with fast cars and small brains.

We hope that what we are doing will put some comfort in Man Friday’s Christmas stocking.

Robin Carlisle

Minister of Transport and

Public Works

Western Cape Government


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